In my military career, I have shot the M16 more times than I care to remember. Imagine lying outside in the prone position in the rain or snow trying to shoot; miserable. Miraculously, those elements had no effect on my shooting ability. I learned that the weather, my attitude, and location would vary each time I shot, but four fundamentals stayed the same through those shooting experiences. I had established a steady position, my aim, breathe control, and trigger squeeze. These skills sound pretty simple but surprisingly many people might forget one or two of them.
Without getting too technical, I’ll cover these four basic skills mixing in my previous experience with text book answers. I truly believe everyone should understand, practice, and apply these skills on and off the firing line.
Pretty straight forward. The firer should assume a steady, comfortable position on the firing line. The firer is the best judge on their position, and they should be able to hold the front sight post steady during a shot.
- Rifle Butt Position – Place in pocket of firers’ shoulder which helps reduce recoil.
- Firing Elbow – Depending on the firing position, the firer should ensure their elbow placement allows their shoulders to stay level. For an unsupported prone positon, elbow is usually tucked close to the body. This helps keep the butt stock in the shoulder pocket.
- Non-Firing Elbow Placement – Firmly under rifle providing a comfortable, steady position. If the firer shoots at moving or various elevated targets, this elbow supports those movements.
- Cheek Placement – Firers’ cheek should naturally fall onto the stock, neck relaxed. This placement also reinforces a natural line of sight through the rear sight, front sight, and onto the target. Tip: To achieve the same cheek position every time, firer can use two fingers to measure between their charging handle/rear sight and cheek. This ensures the same distance used every time.
The firer needs to align the rifle with the target the exact way every time. To do this, there are a few important sight elements that come to play.
- Aligning The Sights – The firer needs to have the tip of the front sight post centered in the rear sight. It is critical to know that any miniscule misalignment here multiples the further the target is. A twentieth of an inch misalignment at a 25 meter target can cause the firer to miss their 300m target by about 2 feet!
- Eye Focus/Fatigue – Unless you have experience, it is common misconception for new firers to keep one eye closed while aiming. One eye closed will actually cause very fast eye fatigue. Leaving both eyes open reduces eye fatigue which aids in keeping the same sight picture. In conjunction, the eye should be focused on the tip of the front sight post which makes the target blurry, but that is normal. This aids in proper sight alignment.
- Sight Picture – Having the sights aligned and aiming point pinned, the firer can now take their sight picture. The target, front sight post, and rear sight post will be aligned.
The firer needs to control their breathing during target engagement. Practicing on paper targets is a sure fire way of seeing if breathing is under control. If a firer’s shot group shows elevation changes (up and down variance) between shots, it is likely they need to practice breathing control.
- Natural Exhale Pause – If engaging targets with an increased time limit or zeroing the weapon, the natural pause of exhale in a breathing cycle is when the firer needs to pull the trigger.
- Stop Breathing – If the shooting exercise employs very limited timed targets, the firer can expect to stop their breath before squeezing the trigger.
At last, the final fundamental. The firer can have all other fundamentals perfect, but if the trigger squeeze is off, the rifle misaligns with the target at the firing moment. Dry fire training is the best way to practice and examine whether trigger squeeze is being utilized correctly. If the firer’s shot group shows wide horizontal variance between shots, this is a big indicator of trigger squeeze.
- Surprise Shot! – Many firers overthink this one. If the firer knows when they will pull the trigger, this will activate their natural reflexes such as tensing up for the recoil which can make them miss the target. Tip: Firer should focus on their breathing. This will eliminate the anxiety of thinking about squeezing the trigger.
- Trigger Finger – The firing hand’s index finger should have the trigger positioned between the first joint and tip of finger. Using the absolute end of the finger could result in a very slight pull/jerking motion on the trigger, resulting in rifle movement.
Shooting takes practice. Some people are naturally good shooters while others may have a few kinks to work out. These rifle fundamentals are here to instill the rifle marksmanship basics from veteran shooters down to the utmost beginner. With these marksman skills in mind, remember that it might take more than one try to get them nailed down and that is ok. Aside from these skills, always remember to practice rifle
This guest article was written by Joshua Babicz. He is the founder of a firearm blog, combated. This firearm enthusiast served 6 years Active duty Army and continues to serve as a reservist.